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Why this high school girl skipped graduation to attend Apple's developer conference

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Anusha Khan at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference.

On Monday, June 13, 350 seniors from Virginia’s Freedom High School class of 2016 participated in their school’s graduation ceremony at George Mason University as their friends and family looked on with pride.

At the same time, 3,000 miles away in San Francisco, Apple CEO Tim Cook was showing off the latest updates to the company’s iOS and macOS software at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference.

And among the crowd of thousands packed into the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, decked out in her graduation cap and gown, was Freedom High School’s own Anusha Khan. A recipient of a coveted Apple scholarship, Khan skipped her own high school graduation after being selected to attend WWDC by the technology giant for her work on her app RemindM. Oh, did I mention she’s only been programming for a year?

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Khan got her start as a programmer just last summer when she participated in a seven-week program through the nonprofit Girls Who Code, a group dedicated to closing the gender gap in the technology industry.

Khan, who is co-developing the app with her friend Rachel Osborne, says the app is designed to help remind children who need daily medication to take it and alerts their parents when they’ve done so.

“We decided to really tackle the problem with medication and the fact that a lot of children who take medication aren’t given the opportunity to take care of themselves, because their parents obviously really worry about them and want them to be safe,” Khan explained following Apple’s press event, still wearing her graduation cap.

“But at the same time the child really needs that sense of independence. So our app targets that, and we try to make sure that the parent and the child are on this equal footing where they are able to communicate with each other. The parent gets to input what medication the child has to take, and then the child checks off what medication they’ve taken,” Khan said.

The RemindM app is an impressively altruistic effort for anyone, let alone a high school senior. Just as impressive, however, is the fact that she’s only been programming for a year.

See, Khan isn’t what you’d expect of your typical app developer. As she explains it, she hated math and science as a student and fully expected to go into journalism.

But in her junior year a teacher told her about a summer program called Girls Who Code. There Khan was introduced to programming languages including Python and Java. The following March she took part in Girls Who Code hackathon which received support from Apple.

“I went there and I didn’t really know what to expect, she said. “All I saw when I got in were these MacBooks on the tables and they were like, “Hey you’re going to code an app today.” And I was like, ‘I am not ready for this at all.'”

By the end of the hackathon, though, Khan was comfortable enough using Apple’s Xcode software development tool to use it at her next hackathon, where RemindM was born.

“My brother, when he was little … had to go through a bone marrow transplant,“ explained Khan. “After the transplant, his entire immune system was shut down and because of that he had to take a lot of medications.

“And because of the fact that he had so many medications and he was so young, my mom didn’t really let him leave the house without having a list of medications that he had to take. So I feel like if he had this app growing up he would have felt a lot better about what he was putting in his body,” she said.

Khan and Osborne are now set to spend the summer finishing their app and getting it into Apple’s App Store. And this isn’t the only one Khan is cooking up. For her next app she hopes to help address the homelessness problem in Washington, D.C.

This fall, Khan will begin her studies at George Mason University, where she’ll be majoring in computer science and minoring in cyber security. That’s quite a jump for someone who just a short time ago had no interested in programming.

So what’s Khan’s advice for young women who may want to go?

“Just go for it and do it.”

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.